We believe in presence.
Presence is a marker and driver for nearly all of the decisions we make as a team, alongside partners, and in conversation with every single one of the hundreds of volunteers that have jumped into this work with us, in the last five years. This is especially true in the ways we have been welcomed to step into youth mentorship within our community of newcomers. When we are stepping into these sacred spaces of walking side-by-side students in our community, we do so with the clear intention of being in it for the long haul with our young friends in the difficult times, joyous times, and the mundane times, of catching up on homework and phone check-ins that are more transformative than we often allow ourselves to believe in the moment.
We’re encouraged as we think about the ways our long-term volunteers, Steph and Wes, show up in the life of Amani. Week after week, from soccer to family meals to gentle nudges at getting homework turned in, this group of people is shaping one another. Years into their mentorship, Steph and Wes have the opportunity to see life in a way they might not have considered before. Amani is seeing that people love and care for him just for being exactly who he is – no strings attached.
We think about one of our newer volunteers that was just connected this Fall. Chris is driving across town to drop off a laptop to the family of some students so that their mom can begin to correspond with her kids’ school and track the progress of her kids’ grades each week. The kids in this family can text, call, and Zoom with Chris during their twice a week virtual hangouts and ask questions about school, practice English, and think through all the strangeness of navigating life during a global pandemic together.
A commitment to presence is found in the way Zach is stepping into the story of a young fifth grader. Showing up even virtually in a public health crisis to make sure this young man is seen and known. For so many parents, as they accomplish incredible feats of adjustment, they’re longing for other longer-term Oregonians to come alongside their kids and fill some of the gaps that used to be filled so naturally by extended family and community in their previous homes. People like Zach are doing just that with a committed intention to make sure students have what they need and are reminded who they are as they navigate it all.
We’re inspired by the way Leah is stepping into the spaces of life with a single mom and her three children originally from East Africa. Weekly check-ins provide the platform for connection over books, movies, school, and what it’s like growing up in Portland. Being a teacher herself, Leah can use what she knows and has experienced to support the youth of this family with pointed purpose.
So much of the beauty in these spaces we’ve been welcomed into will never be written down in a blog or a book. Very little will ever show up on a social media timeline. The sacredness in the boring and the beauty that shows up in youth mentorship can’t always be told. We believe that these untold moments are just as important as the inspirational storylines woven into our communities that get turned into major motion pictures. That’s part of why we root ourselves in a dedication to presence. Our volunteers, who become friends and aunts and uncles and extended family to the kids they walk alongside, are devoted to the youth of our resettlement community for more than just a warm and fuzzy feeling. They’re committed to all that entails, caring for youth whether they’re recognized for it or not. Our mentors and our youth are the people in our city that bring out the best in who we are and lead us to flourish more than we ever would without them.
In the last few months, we have been able to match over 25 school-age youth in 12 different families with 12 different mentors, who are committed to coming alongside these families for the school year.